Postcards from Natalie Zed: Part One

I write a series of postcard-length reviews for Hellbound.ca. Here is the first installment. You can read the original here.

Blackguard – Profugus Mortis

I first saw BLACKGUARD perform with ENSIFERUM, EX DEO, and SWASHBUCKLE on December 1st 2009. Their energy, graciousness and leather pants left me smitten, as did the combination of a black metal aesthetic with the cheerful cheekiness of folk. Paul Ablaze is a charismatic bugger, and “This Round’s On Me” is positively infectious. The album, in contrast, is surprisingly chilly and stoic. The sound is dominated by the keyboard battling the guitar, and while it’s definitely a friendly sparring match, it is most certainly a fight. I was also surprised by the reliance on black vocals with no warmth or contrast. Like an evening of drinking gone slightly awry, I expected to spend an evening sipping scotch neat with this album, and instead wound up doing shots. (Nuclear Blast 2009)


Enslaved – Vertebrae

Any sensation, sustained long enough, however pleasurable or painful, will eventually fade into numbness. Hit the same nerve enough times in the same way and you’ll eventually stop feeling it. ENSLAVED are intimately aware of this, and actively combat the formation of an auditory callus with Vertebrae. The constant changes in texture and intensity prevents complacency — as soon as I’d start to settle into the album it would shift. Gentle without any comfort. A series of beginnings. Death by sandpaper. (Nuclear Blast 2008)


Testament – Demonic

My family is Russian. My grandfather, Vsevolod, taught me to do shots (with gingerale) when I was three years old. He also taught me to say the word “Nostrovia” (to health) as a toast. That word is also the final track on Demonic, which made me feel unexpectedly nostalgic. Even more unexpected was how that nostalgia provided an appropriate counterpoint to this experience. Despite being huge and towering and harsh, TESTAMENT handles the listener carefully. There is something warm under the death growl, something unexpectedly tender in this album that begins with a countdown to 666 and ends with a sincere toast to the listeners’ health. (Prosthetic Records 2007) (re-issue)


Skeletonwitch – Breathing the Fire

There are two ways to burn energy. Some labour exhausts you, lessens you, takes whatever reserves you have. You walk away dead tired and fall asleep still wearing your clothes and and a sheen drying sweat. Then, much more rarely, there is the labour that leaves you energized, electric. Breathing the Fire burns out of the latter category. However relentless the thrash, however hard it worked me over, I felt like I could take (and give) more. (Prosthetic Records 2009)

All That Remains – Overcome

I saw ALL THAT REMAINS at the Sound Academy on November 17th 2007, along with TAKING DAWN, MAYLENE AND THE SONS OF DISASTER, and LACUNA COIL. In the interest of full disclosure, I bought the ticket to see Lacuna, but ended up being completely pleased with the headliner as well. It certainly helped that their set had Tony Hawk-esque circle pit ramps. It was a chance meeting, an almost accidental flirtation that left me unexpectedly hot under the collar. Listening to the album, I thought, would be a continuation of that steamy introduction (with fewer teenagers who couldn’t control their elbows), a proper first date. Only expecting to be shown a good time, the album took an unexpectedly earnest turn around “Forever in Your Hands.” Expecting to be simply ridden hard and out a way wet, this album made me feel like I should call it the next day or at least invite it to breakfast. (Prosthetic Records 2008)


The Black Dahlia Murder – Deflorate

In case you hadn’t noticed: the album art features an obese, Giger-esque giantess covered in uterus-pods, sitting atop an insect throne/war machine, incinerating a trio of agonized penitents. Also, the drumming on this album is making me draw some uncomfortably delicious comparisons between an ear drums, a drum skin, and a hymen. Deflorate indeed. (Metal Blade 2009)


Drudkh – Autumn Aurora

I chose the worst possible moment to listen to Autumn Aurora for the first time. I was stressed and manic, over-caffeinated and behind on a writing deadline. What I found in DRUDKH was so anathema to that state of mind that I might have hated it simply for not giving me more angry, scattered energy. But by the time “Glare of Autumn” came on, I had stopped working or pacing and simply sat, listening.DRUDKH soothes without draining and refreshes without comforting. Strange and lovely. (Season of Mist 2009) (reissue)

Hatebreed – Hatebreed

I am completely willing to accept that this is one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” situations. You see, I hate to jog. Loathe and despise it, actually. I would rather be flogged than go for a run. I get the sense that were I the particular brand of masochist for whom the vice would be versa, I would love this album. It’s angry and fast and has exactly the right kind of aggressive drive to sustain gross physical exertion. Were I a runner, I would love HATEBREED. (E1 Music 2009)

Axxis – Utopia

Somewhere in the depths of my roommate’s hard drive, there is a video clip. This video clip may or may not depict me in my underpants, several bourbon-with-limes to the good, dancing around like an idiot and singing along to “Utopia” at the top of my lungs. If this video ever makes it on to the internet, you can safely assume that my roommate is also now dead. (AFM Records 2009)


Gojira – The Way Of All Flesh

In May of 2009, Lily the Pirate (my good friend, roommate, and fellow metal head) and I went out for a beer. On out way home, our streetcar stopped in front of The Mod Club on College Street. Unbeknownst to us, GOJIRA had played there that night (this was when my love for metal still bore its first blush and before 60% of my paycheque went to concert tickets). The show had just ended; suddenly the streetcar was full of sweaty boys all vibrating with excitement. Whenever one of them spotted a small herd of their damp-black-t-shirt-wearing brethren, they’d lean out the window and scream “GOJIRA” at each other. Lily and I looked at each other; we both knew that whatever had just happened was something that we wanted to get in on. This album is inseparable from the feeling I got sitting on that streetcar being completely surrounded by positive energy and the very best kind of exhaustion there is. (Prosthetic Records 2008)

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